When flesh-eating piranhas are accidently released into a summer resort's rivers, the guests become their next meal.
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Piranhas bring to mind deadly little fish that can skin a human to the bone in seconds – even if that has never been proven to happen. Someone forgot to tell that to director Joe Dante, screenwriter John Sayles and producer Roger Corman.
Of course the Piranhas in this film are not normal Piranhas.
Skip Tracer Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) has come to Lost River Lake to look for two missing teenagers. Strong-willed and forceful, she drafts local drunkard Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) into helping her, despite himself.
They quickly track the teenagers to an abandoned military facility. Maggie drains the facility’s pool (against Grogan protests), to check the pool, which gets them attacked by Dr. Robert Hoak (Kevin McCarthy). After subduing the doctor, Maggie and Grogan discover the skeletal remains of an animal in the pool.
Using a raft built by Grogan, he and Maggie raft down the river with Dr. Hoak, planning on getting the doctor to the hospital. Waking up on the raft, Hoak freaks out, telling them what they have done. The pool they drained was filled with genetically engineered Piranhas designed for use in Vietnam, and they have released them into the lake.
These Piranhas were created for military use, to thrive in any environment and they will attack and devour anything on sight. Dr. Hoak defends his part in their creation by saying he is a scientist, and it was only research.
Hoak then sacrifices himself in order to save a child from the Piranha’s, perhaps because he does feel some guilt, or in some why wanted to prove his innocence. The child mysteriously disappears a few scenes later, never to been seen or referenced again.
With proof now that the Piranhas exist they race against time to stop the Piranhas from leaving the lake and going into the open water, where there sits a summer camp full of kids, including Jake Grogan’s daughter, and a new water resort.
With a military that wants to cover up the situation up, a sheriff’s department who won’t believe them and a resort owner who is in partnership with the military commander, Maggie and Grogan take it upon themselves to stop the Piranha.
Piranha is a simple, straight forward film that never deviates from its path, and always moves forward in the same direction: Piranha’s attack and our heroes try to stop them. Ironically, the most dangerous obstacle in the film isn’t the Piranhas; it’s the human element that tries to prevent our heroes from revealing what is going on.
The film itself is a parody of Jaws, which can be been seen with a nod to the film when we first meet Maggie – she is playing a Jaws video game. Piranha still stands on its own, with some satire and campiness thrown in. The biting satire in the film is society’s tendency to not believe something can go wrong until it does, and then it’s not ready to deal with it.
The true testament to Piranha’s success is in its imitators. The film spawned dozen of low-budget imitators in the late 70’s and early ’80. None were able to match the success of Piranha.